The next item on the agenda is questions to the Assembly Commission. The first question is from Jenny Rathbone.
1. What progress is the Assembly making in growing food on its estate? OAQ(5)008(AC)[R]
I thank the Member for the question. In 2014, a group of staff volunteers ran a pilot scheme to assess the feasibility of growing food on the Assembly estate. As you’ll appreciate, the Assembly has almost no suitable growing space, unlike some of the other UK legislatures, and, unfortunately, it has proved not to be possible to grow food on the estate, although our caterers do grow herbs for use in the catering service.
I would wish to challenge that assumption, because I’m engaged in my communities in areas where there is almost no green space and green space is found to grow things. Because there’s a huge amount of evidence that it improves well-being as well as encouraging wildlife. There was an initiative in the last Assembly, spearheaded by Julie Morgan, to encourage both Members and staff to grow food or flowers on the estate, and I could easily identify areas where we could do that. For example, there are passageways that have become greenhouses in the summer, and we can be growing tomatoes, and they would look nice—and, you know, lots of win-wins there. The reason I am raising this is that I was somewhat disturbed to learn that the new chief executive had written to the Community Land Advisory Service providing a similar answer to what you are saying. I would ask you to look again at this, and I’m happy to meet you to discuss this outside the Plenary session.
I thank you for that, Jenny, for that information, and I will certainly meet with you to discuss further. However, I will answer this question in the way that I have prepared at the moment. But I will meet with you later. We are aware of the excellent initiative. As I mentioned, a group of staff volunteers did assess the feasibility of growing food on our estate. However, with almost no available green space, the pilot scheme did conclude that it would not be possible to grow any meaningful amount of food on the Assembly estate. There is a plot of land adjacent to the Senedd. However, this is not owned by the Assembly. So, whilst we have not been able to grow food, we have focused on planting wildflowers and have installed bird boxes in conjunction with the RSPB Give Nature a Home scheme to attract increased wildlife, birds, bees and butterflies within the estate. [Interruption.] The Assembly's chief executive—sorry. The Assembly’s chief—. I heard some things. The Assembly's chief executive has recently been corresponding with the Community Land Advisory Service and has suggested that, given the limited amount of growing space available on our estate, we may be able to help to promote its work in other ways, for example, if they explored holding an event at the Senedd. But I will meet with you later to discuss further. Thank you.
2. Will the Commission examine the merits of establishing a Presiding Officer placement scheme to improve the accessibility of paid internships with Assembly Members? OAQ(5)009(AC)
Thank you. Some Members have experience of hosting internship placements in the Assembly. These are managed within the Assembly’s political parties and higher education institutions, or by individual Members through their own contacts. Introducing interns to the work of the politicians and political groups is an important part of making this an accessible parliamentary body and engaging people in the work that we do here. Shifting to a Presiding Officer placement scheme would need further consideration given the financial support arrangements for Assembly Members’ staffing.
I thank the Presiding Officer. I thank you, Elin, for that response there. I'm glad to see you haven't shut the door on the idea. I think it is worth exploring. This year, the Speaker of the House of Commons has introduced this scheme, and it's an attempt to actually overcome the social mobility problems with internships and placements. Far too often, as we know, placements tend to be within the favour of those families who can afford to support young people going off for longer placements and internships, or it's in the gift of those who have the connections, and I think it would be admirable if a progressive institution such as our own could actually lead the way—not simply follow what Parliament is doing, but look at the opportunities of supported scholarships for short periods of three months, for example, for Welsh students to be here to learn about the democratic and political engagement within this institution, and particularly those who would not normally have that opportunity, either because of issues of lack of support and lack of finances, or, alternatively, because they come from educational paths where, traditionally, they may lack confidence at that post-16 level to take it through. So, I welcome the fact that it's not a complete shut door on this, and I'd be more than happy to assist in any way with exploring this further, because I think for us to show the lead in the progressive way that will tackle social mobility builds on the reputation of this young institution to do the right thing and to lead by example.
Well, my door is certainly not closed on this issue, and I have looked with interest since you first corresponded with me on the Speaker’s scheme in the House of Commons in partnership with the Creative Society. I agree with your analysis that interns that we have had in this place and in other places have come from usual suspects or usual places, especially those who are politics students in our universities, for example. And, whilst that is of course valuable and worthwhile for all who’ve involved themselves in that work, we do need to ensure that we are opening up our politics, our political groups, and our work as a Commission, to others who may not necessarily be able to avail themselves directly or immediately of the opportunities of internships. There are issues that we would need to look at carefully on these matters. Issues of finance, of course, come first to mind, and I do know that the remuneration board is about to embark on a review of staffing support for Members, and this may well be an issue that Members may be interested in making representation to the remuneration board on, but I would certainly want to work with Members here to see what opportunities are available to us, what partners are out there who might want to work with us in establishing an internship programme of this kind, so that every young person in Wales, and outside of Wales, who thinks that they may have an interest in involving themselves and working within this establishment feels that there is a way that they could reach that aspiration.
I’d just like to add my support to Huw Irranca-Davies’s proposal, and I welcome your commitment across the board, Presiding Officer, to opening up politics in this institution. One of my own priorities that I pledged prior to being elected was about making our politics and our politicians much more accessible—not just myself, but actually how we open up opportunities to get involved and understand. I think Huw made some valid points about actually making it accessible to everybody, not just for people with the means and with the contacts to do so. I think it’s right and proper that we try to find a way so that at least we are able to pay interns, and, if possible, it should be a living wage. I think one of the things you touched on is, currently, the inflexibility of our staffing budgets, which don’t allow Members to be able to do that should they wish to. And I think it’s something that we need to actually get the remuneration board to consider. I think one thing I’d like to ask, building on what my colleague Huw Irranca-Davies said about the possibility of shorter-term scholarships, perhaps—I’ve seen other politicians elsewhere looking at the idea of trying to do apprenticeships, or something similar to that work-based learning. So, at a younger age, allowing people to come in, and linking with FE colleges and other training institutions, to see whether we can do that. So, I’d ask that that, perhaps, be given further consideration.
Thank you for those additional thoughts on how a system of this nature could be developed. We all as individual Assembly Members here, I’m sure, open up our doors in our constituency, and provide valuable job experience opportunities for young people, especially in our constituencies. I think maybe the fact that the remuneration board is about to embark on this review of staffing support enables Members here, and us as a Commission, to look at ways in which we could seek to make our funding structures, and staff support structures, flexible enough to allow a more innovative way to provide more flexibility for Members to look at how they can attract people from newer places to access work opportunities in this place.